One more thing needs to be said by way of understanding faith and reason. I alluded to this briefly in a late edit to yesterday’s blog post, but I need to expand upon it. Here’s a somewhat more complete statement:
Faith in God is entirely rational, but rationality will not cause faith in God. Faith is not just cognitive but also relational: to trust God is not only to agree to facts about God but to yield to his always-good will and to enjoy a loving relationship with him. As such it involves the submission of the will, not just the assent of the mind.
The natural state of humans, however, is to rebel against God; and since that is our natural condition, we cannot bootstrap ourselves out of it. It requires the infusion of new life, called regeneration by theologians, which only God can provide, and which he gladly does provide on his own sovereign initiative.
Having said that, I find myself at an uncharacteristic loss as to what to say next.
For one thing, this is a publish-and-duck topic. I expect all manner of things to be thrown at me for it. Skeptics and atheists find this teaching simply incredible. Christian denominations have different opinions on the matter, and different opinions as to how important the differences are. There’s hardly anything I could write that could generate more controversy coming from every direction.
For another thing, while I could explain every phrase in that paragraph, I’m not sure how much time to devote to it. I’ve already committed myself to several weeks of blogging on Christian evidences, and I keep thinking of new, necessary, preliminary material to cover. This topic could take weeks to cover. I do want to get going on the evidences, after all.
Faith and Regeneration
I did not, however, want to leave things where I did in my last post, with the impression that all it takes to come to faith is reasoned reflection on relevant truths. It literally requires an act of God, to bring us to new life.
And isn’t it clear that we have more to overcome than we could possibly scale on our own? God’s ways are good and perfect. Ours fall far short (Romans 3:23). None of us comes into this world loving God, or even knowing God well enough to want to love him. Though some of us are better and others worse—at least by appearances, and with respect to the outwardly visible commandments of God, none of us by our original nature worships him alone. We all set up other objects of veneration besides God, including ourselves. The result of this is spiritual separation from God—also known as spiritual death.
To have a relational faith in God is to experience life directed toward God, life with God, and life in God. But we’re dead toward God, in our natural state. We can’t open our spiritual caskets from the inside. Only God can revive us toward him. He invites us to come to him, out of the domain of darkness, where we stumble around blinded by the darkness or, if we turn toward the light, dazzled into disability by its brightness. He himself must conduct us along the way.
So the act of turning to God in faith is an act that depends utterly on God’s initiative. Yes, it depends on our response, but even that is his gift (Eph. 2:8,9), given freely to those who will accept it from him. (In that last phrase there is a world of questions to ponder, which I will not explore here, for then this would certainly go on for hours and still not reach resolution.)
A Relational Faith
I know that this will sound strange in unbelievers’ ears. I ask you to inquire of God about it in prayer, and to explore his ways by meeting Jesus Christ himself, in the Gospel of Luke or John, perhaps. This is because coming to faith in God is a matter of coming face to face with him, and discovering his goodness is great enough to be worth giving your will over to him. He created you. He loves you. He knows what’s best for you, and he wants to give his best to you. Do not fear he will not overpower your personality, for he will instead bring it to full flourishing in what is good, true, and right.
Faith, Reason, and Regeneration
I know, too, that some will say this contradicts everything I’ve said about the rationality of faith. If faith comes by way of something other than reasoning, how could it be rational? The answer is that the rationality of the conclusion simply is what it is, regardless of how one comes to realize it. If (as I will come to soon, I hope!) there are good reasons to believe in Christ, then there are good reasons to believe in him. God grants it for some to see those reasons before regeneration; it is part of the process he chooses to use to prepare us for the new life he gives. Others see little of the reasons beforehand, but look back afterward and say, “Now it makes sense.” Others have little care for evidences and reasoning, and simply enjoy the relationship for what it is.
Again, some will say this is merely talking around rationality; that it’s really rationalizing instead, making excuses for confirmation biases and other irrationalities. I don’t think that’s the case, however. It’s not ad hoc, for one thing: it’s part of a unified, coherent belief system that goes all the way back to the very beginnings, in Genesis. It’s certainly not something Christians would make up to make out beliefs more palatable. And finally, the test of a belief system’s rationality is not in what it requires to accept it volitionally, psychologically, or relationally, but how it stands up rationally. To treat it any other way would be (in all likelihood) to fall prey to the genetic fallacy or ad hominem.
I’ve probably said enough, even though it’s impossible really to say all that should be said on this topic. As I press the publish button I will duck. But not really: for I am quite confident that this teaching can stand up to challenge, so therefore I can stand, too.